Get out your magic wand…

Get out your magic wand…

And let’s play fairy godmother.

This blog is an excerpt from ‘The next day: a bundle of notes about grief, loss of vocation, and having to carry on regardless’.

Illustration by Rebecca Stewart

If you could have any future – any future at all – what would it look like?

In answering this, consider the following questions:

  • Do you find this difficult – impossible, even – to answer right now?
  • Is the answer you can give right now different to the one you might have given pre-lockdown? Why?
  • Has the answer stayed the same, but shifted from something that felt real – achievable – to feeling like a fantasy or a pipe dream?
  • Does dreaming big make you feel foolish, rebellious, subversive… or hopeful and excited?

Your answers to the above questions will, of course, reflect the reality of the conditions you are currently dealing with in your life. But they may also be a reflection of how grief is inflecting the way you feel able to take stock of your present and envision your future. Perhaps refer back to the list of the symptoms of grief listed elsewhere in these notes and ask yourself if some of the reactions or feelings listed are unduly colouring your ideas about what you are able or even entitled to expect from the future.

Bear in mind, too, that sometimes grief doesn’t cloud our perceptions but instead gifts us with extraordinary clarity. After my mother died last year, I had to deal with feelings of sadness and pity, brain fog (confusion, poor short-term memory), and extraordinary physical tiredness. To deal with these things and still function so that the rent got paid, I became ruthless in blocking out any non-essential activity or obligation in my life so that I could preserve energy for things that were vital to my wellbeing. What was interesting to me was that what I considered to be essential or nonessential shifted from before Mum’s death. Things I was pumping energy into before she died, and which I felt guilty about leaving undone, suddenly became easy to chuck. And the world didn’t end when I did jettison them. As disorientated as I was in my emotions, and as stupid as I was in my day-to-day thinking, I felt that grief gave me the ability to understand what I had been wasting time on and what felt really important to me; I could reset priorities. Perhaps in considering the provocations above, you could also detect a shift in priorities or insights into your needs?

And if you couldn’t? Or if you tried to peer into the future and found your plans are starting to fade, tarnish, or disappear?

  • It is valid to feel shock and grief, and
  • It is valid to have no idea what to do next,
  • It is valid to live for a while bereft of ambition, goals, objectives…
  • BUT think about how you are going to sustain your psychological wellbeing while you do sit in this difficult but potentially liberating state of unknowing.

Sitting in a place of uncertainty is something most humans are bad at, although – I’m speaking to you arts people here – I think that creative thinkers are better at it than most. Uncertainty is a rich hunting ground for people who like to play with ‘what if?’

The COVID-19 associated economic slump has seen many people lose not just jobs or income streams but access to whole sectors; people’s dreams for the future, their ambitions and vocational trajectories have been truncated with shocking abruptness. This, of itself, may be an active cause of grief for some folks. It may take people time to rebuild a pathway forward or an idea as to what they are travelling towards. Feelings of grief may seem to complicate this state, but they are also understandable and, I would argue, essential. You have a right to grieve your lost future. One lost potential future, anyway. Grieving is difficult to undergo, to bear, but it is the process by which you adjust to this loss. And even if you can’t see it, there is another future waiting for you. It might even be better than the one you had originally envisaged…


This blog is an excerpt from The next day: a bundle of notes about grief, loss of vocation, and having to carry on regardless.

You can buy The next day here.

This project is unfunded. If you would like to make a small donation to it then you can do so here. If you are unable to afford to do this, then please know that my best wishes go out to you.

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